Around 130 countries are currently engaged at the UN in producing a nuclear weapon ban treaty along the lines of those on chemical weapons, landmines, etc. It is expected that by 7th July a treaty will be agreed and will be ready for signing and then ratification. Along with the other 8 nuclear-armed states the UK is boycotting the negotiations. Before the crucial vote in October last year,which set the negotiations in motion, the US wrote to all NATO members urging them to vote against, on the basis that a ban treaty would seriously impede US ability to provide a nuclear weapon “umbrella”.
A particular feature of the negotiations and of the whole impetus behind the treaty is the part played by civil society organisations. At the Conference itself these representatives are not fringe observers but are officially accredited and they offer evidence and argument to the diplomats. There are organisations with global reach such as the ICRC and ICAN, as well as civil society representatives from individual nations. Though unrepresented at diplomatic level the UK is represented by civil society. Scotland has sent a seven-strong team to the talks, reflecting the rejection of nuclear weapons by the majority of its parliamentarians.
As of 19th June the talks have covered the preamble to the treaty and have made a start of discussing what the key prohibitions will be.
Here’s a report from the Scottish team:
“Monday morning was anything but dull at the United Nations in New York as we started the week with an action packed programme. We were definitely glad to have a team presence so that we could split up and participate in all the events to the fullest.
The day started with the ICAN strategy meeting, which we attended together, where we recapped last week’s activities and highlighted the two issues of military planning and finance as key issues for us to focus on today. The team then split up with Janet sitting in on the negotiations, Andy volunteering to participate in external lobbying activities, making calls to Bangladesh,Ethiopia, Gabon, Papua New Guinea, St. Kitts and Nevis, South Sudan, Tajikistan while Amy, Flavia and I attended a youth working group where we exchanged ideas about youth engagement in nuclear disarmament issues.
Meanwhile, Isabel attended a screening of ‘Paper Lanterns’ a touching documentary that presents the relationships which developed between the families of two of the prisoners of war who perished in Hiroshima and the Japanese gentleman who had been there on August 1945. This man extended a hand of friendship to provide closure for the families of the deceased by relentlessly seeking the truth of their deaths.
The ban treaty process is the biggest and most hopeful step in global nuclear disarmament since the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. For the non-nuclear weapon states it is a way around the blockages on progress by the nuclear nine. It exposes as specious the UK mantra about the multilateral route. It also represents a special opportunity for Scotland to visibly align itself with the peaceful aspirations of the majority world.
Towards the end of the morning we headed back outside to support anti-nuclear bomb activists protesting the American boycott off the negotiations taking place outside the American mission.
The non-violent civil disobedience act managed to attract some media attention, which has been notably lacking throughout the negotiations so far and ended when more than a dozen activists were arrested.
Following this, we attended the side event ‘Global Call of Hibakusha’ which highlighted common themes in the experience of nuclear weapons victims. Karina Lester spoke of the Australian aboriginal’s suffering following nuclear testing on their grounds and her family’s journey for acknowledgement from the government. Roland Oldham spoke with passion about the impact of nuclear testing in French Polynesia, accusing the nuclear weapons states of crimes against humanity. The session also saw three Hibakusha sharing their memories of the bombing and the psychological and physical suffering caused by this experience which continues to follow them throughout their life.
What connected these speakers’ contributions was that each had experienced disruption of social structures, lack of medical care, lack of communication and lack of acknowledgement of their suffering and needs from nuclear weapon states. The survivors delivered three million petition signatures to the UN high representative for disarmament.
The afternoon saw us back in the negotiations room where discussion had moved on to the phrasing of the obligations of the treaty. As participating countries discussed the framework that should lead us towards a nuclear weapons free world, disagreements as to the appropriate balance between clarity and need for assurance of effective procedures towards disarmament started to emerge. Nonetheless, the tone of the negotiations remained positive and we look forward to receiving a revised draft soon.
The end of the day found us in a local pub, a gathering of merry activists satisfied with a good day’s work, raising a glass in celebration of Flavia’s birthday. Cheers!
Warm wishes, Dagmar Medeiros & the rest of the Scottish team.”